/ Technology

Are manufacturers cheating you out of printer ink?

Colour ink cartridges lined up

Does your printer ink run out too quickly? Can you ignore ‘low ink’ messages? Believe it or not, your printer may be fooling you into changing your cartridge before it’s even empty.

If you think your printer cartridges run out far too early, you may have a point.

A recent class action in the US involving claims against HP has now been settled. To cut a long story short, I’ll summarise it as ‘consumers being diddled out of getting the most from the ink they’ve paid for’.

Printer manufacturers have got some of us right where they want us – third party inks aren’t an option for every printer, so we often don’t have a choice about what to buy.

We’re used to our printers throwing up messages about low ink levels, but how many of us know all that goes on in the ‘mind’ of a cartridge’s microchip? When it ‘talks’ to our printer is it merely scheming to find the best way to part us from our cash?

Low ink messages, expiry dates and mono prints

In short, the three lawsuits in the HP Inkjet Printer Litigation case claimed that:

  • HP’s ‘low on ink’ messages were confusing people into prematurely replacing cartridges
  • Certain HP cartridges shut down on undisclosed expiration dates
  • Some HP colour printers use colour ink for black and white prints without disclosing the fact or providing the option to disable it

We know from our tests that printers from a range of manufacturers use colour for black and white prints. And we’re used to overriding ‘low ink’ messages to get as much out of a cartridge as possible when we’re testing too. But unless printer manufacturers advise consumers, how are people to know how often they can override a low ink warning?

How will this case help consumers?

This recent US class action may look like a chink of light, but before we get excited, consider that HP denied all of the claims in the action and the court didn’t rule in favour of either party.

As part of the proposed settlement HP is contributing $5,000,000 of e-credits to class members. This basically means that anyone who bought an affected model in the US can claim up to $6 each. Yes, that’s right, six whole dollars.

HP is making a few changes – namely agreeing to discontinue using certain pop-up ink messages and graphics and making certain disclosures on its website and packaging.

This may sound like progress, but it’s just words, not actual change. After all, if your printer’s telling you to change your cartridge too early and using colour where black and white will do, what else could it be doing to drain your supplies and your wallet?


The answer to your headline question is, of course, yes.
Furthermore the amount of ink contained in the cartridge bears no comparison to the exorbitant price even when you take into account the manufacturing costs and other overheads. A clever ploy is to produce some very basic printers at knock down prices. These appeal to students, kids and others like myself who just print the odd document now and again. The ink in the supplied cartridge gets quickly used up so a new expensive cartridge is soon required. I’ve often wondered whether it would be more cost effective to simply bin the printer and buy another – each time repeating the process when the ink runs out!
I certainly ignore any warning signs about low ink. I ignore requests to ‘register’ the product and I close and exit any icon appearing in the bottom tray on my screen because I suspect this sends back certain info to the manufacturer. I either get cartridges refilled or buy pre-filled ones over the internet. These are more than adequate for my needs.


HP Photosmart C309a series, not smart at all, seems to eat ink by the gallon without doing the mileage!

KevinF says:
23 November 2010

Fed up with the ploys of Epson and HP over many years and their exorbitant prices for ink cartridges, I’ve been using non-branded versions for years. The final straw came this month when I inserted a new black and colour cartridge only to be informed by the printer software they were “unsupported” cartridges.

So incensed was I at this point that I placed an order for one of the Kodak printers being so heavily advertised at the moment. I had already read some very good reviews regarding quality and cost of ink – half the cost of the HP equivalent I was using.

Well, I’ve received the printer and I love it. The print quality is just tremendously better than my old Epson and HP printers. I’ve yet to reap the rewards of lower ink costs but, judging by what others are saying, I should almost be laughing at least part way to the bank!


It is certainly is not restricted to HP. I regard myself as a fairly “heavy printer” but usually get a couple of weeks more out of an “empty” cartridge by just carrying on until the proof is in the printing. Mind you I do carry a stock of cartidges (all 6 of them, which my printer takes) and an even higher stock of black!


I’m glad you’ve reported this. I’ve experienced exactly these issues with my HP1215 all-in-one…The driver I’m using is new as I upgraded my operating system and ever since I’ve had bogus messages of ‘low ink’ and ‘your colour cartridge is faulty or not compatible with your printer’. I say bogus because I refilled the cartridges so they couldn’t have been empty. Were they generated by stats of pages printed? That would mask real problems. I think this is all a ploy to put us off from refilling cartridges or buying anything other than HP cartridges and that must be against trading standards surely? They should definitely be penalised for this practice in the ‘best of’ review scores.

Ellen C. says:
23 November 2010

Canon seems to play the same game.
I just ignore the messages about low ink supply , specially when I know I have just replaced a cartridge and still get the same message after a few days.

Alun Bullon says:
23 November 2010

Cartridges for my Canon Pixma MP800 cost from £12.99 to £17.99 each depending on colour/size and the printer requires 5 in total.

I can buy 2 complete sets (10 cartridges in all) for £16.95 from http://www.hornseainkjets.co.uk/ and they have delivered within 2 working days for both of my orders to date.

Even if they do not last as long as OEM stuff the savings are enormous!


There is an implication that the use of colour ink when printing b&w can be avoided. Is this so, and how can it be managed


I have the ridiculous HP Photosmart 8250 which produces good pictures but runs with 5 different colours of ink cartridge plus a black one that hardly ever seems to empty. I bought some cartridges in advance to save going to office suppliers every 5 minutes to replace the yellow, or is it the light cyann? At present the printer has been telling me that the magenta is empty (for the past 2 weeks) and that since 3 of the cartridges are “time expired” repairs cannot be covered under warranty. To get the printer past the various messages and PRINT is a regular headache, usually solved by lifting up the lid and banging it back down. That generally makes me feel a bit better!
No doubt they will scam their customers some more to fund the $5m e-credits, but they lost all their credit with me some time ago and Kodak sounds like a great future port of call. Companies like this simply don’t deserve to have customers.


The answer is no! Sometimes I get an empty warning from my Canon i560x printer during a print run and I press the resume button. But next time I try printing I find that the the ink cartridge icon is no longer showing empty. So far I have not had a problem doing this with Tesco ink cartridges. But eventually I look at the cartridge and find that it really is empty.


I use a HP C3180. I run until the print fades. I use B/W for documents and Colour for all photos.
Used refilled cartridges on my previous Dell printer until the ink spilled all over the desk and carpet and have never used refills again. My current Dell AIO 922 prints but the letters are slipped ,with the result that I have two unused cartridges!

Donald says:
23 November 2010

1) If a Canon continues to print with an empty ink cartridge, it will damage the heads, will it not? It’s like boiling a kettle dry – the head will try to boil non-existent ink and burn out. When my Canon finally stops printing with an Ink Out message, the cartridge looks empty to me. By the way, with a Canon, you can use very cheap compatibles – £2 approx per cartridge.

2) Inkjet printers do a lousy job printing B&W photos, because, as stated above, they mix the colours to achieve B&W, but don’t get it exactly right, hence a slight colour cast. You need a calibrated profile to do it. I believe the reason they mix colours is to achieve light greys – see various forums on the web. This is difficult with black only, as the dithering is very spaced and grainy.

Behemoth says:
23 November 2010

I’ve worked in IT since 1968 (before it was called IT) and I worked on Dixon’s PC help line for four years so I’ve had some experience. This is what I do. It may not work for you.
I am using a Lexmark printer at present. I ignore all Low Ink messages. As soon as a document prints minus an ink I change the cartridge in question. If you run a cartridge ‘dry’ the print head may be damaged. Whether this is important depends on how your printer works and this depends on the manufacturer and model. Remember Epson printers use a different system from the rest.

HiDEye says:
23 November 2010

I recall using a procedure with HP printers (now some time back) which reset the printer to acknowledge a full (or refilled) cartridge was inserted.
Vaguely=?: you cover/tape over some of the cartridge’s copper terminals and run several such ‘patterns’ with the startup procedures – not sure but google it.
The same (old) HPs would not run without a colour cartridge even for plain b/w printing. They would if I used a finished or duff colour cartridge so b/w must have been the default and the dummy kept it quiet. Worth trying.

Cartridges can be refreshed with a wad of kitchen tissues, well damped, microwaved to very hot, the jets given a good press/rub over and then a given a few cleaning cycles once back in the printer.


I have been refilling my ink cartridges in my Lexmark all in one and now my Cannon all in one. I buy the kit and it lasts a long time for both black and colour.
I have used the ‘copies’ but refilling myself means I don’t have to wait.


HP, Epson et al DO NOT sell printers, they sell Ink, a pro photographer friend of mine runs an HP of some sort, the print heads are meant to last the life of the machine, after 18 months use the heads packed up, 3 new heads and 6 new cartridges were about £20 less than the cost of the printer, my canon pixma IP 4500 packed up after about 2 years, I was able to buy a new printer for less than the cost of new print heads. I always run my Canons now until the printer tells me it has run out of ink, sometimes this amounts to 50+ extra prints (not photos) before the ink finally runs out.

I know it is different but I have only just stopped using my Apple Lasewriter+ from 1988 and some 300,000 prints, meantime I have had 6 epsons, 2 HPs, 4 Canons, I have a cupboard full of spare cartridges for those printers. The Apple was expensive at the time, but the endless hassle of inkjets just makes me hope that one day colour lasers will produce good photos. What happened to Dye Sub printers? At one time they were going to rule the world.


I’m surprised that one of the HP Photosmart printers was recently declared a Which? best buy. Wasn’t the ink issue considered? I’ve always found generic ink cartridges suitable for my limited domestic use. Before buying a printer, consult a generic ink supplier re price, availability, compatibility, quality, etc. of generic ink cartridges.

pam wilson says:
7 March 2012

I know I’m not very well-informed, but what is ‘generic ink’? Which are the generic ink suppliers/? I use HP21XL and HP22XL and ignore the ‘low’ and ‘outof’ as they continue to print for ages, I change my cartridge only when the actual print-out is faded. I did try Rymans own-brand compatible cartridges for an Epson printer years ago and they jammed up the printer, after much wrangling and threats about taking legal action they gave me a ‘goodwill’ payment which enabled me to buy my current HP printer. I’ve since been wary of buying cut-price or refilled cartridges.

Robert says:
24 November 2010

I have just purchased and installed a HP laser jet B&W printer as a Which? best buy as I want the wi-fi facility.
Now I read this and wonder if I have done the right thing???

A frustrating P-User says:
26 November 2010

Ahhh…,***! The Dam HP printer stops my print job, it keeps printing error “running out of ink” instead. If it has ink to print error messages clearly pages after pages, why can it finishes printing my one-page print job?

I am now looking a baseball bat or a hammer before sending that POS to the recycle bin.

Lesson learned from the above, if a printer run out of ink, instead of buying $36.99 new ink cartridges toss it in the trash, buy a new one at $32.00.

A very frustrating printer user!

Richard Jones says:
28 November 2010

I bought a Canon Pixma MX870 a few months ago after a glowing report from ComputerActive magazine. However there was no mention of cartridges in the review. I went to my local supplier of cartridges and he told me that I could use compatible ones with this printer so I bought it. I have found to my chagrin that this is not in fact true. I have tried several make sof compatibles but the printer keeps saying that they are unrecognised. Sometimes it prints OK then takes it into it’s head, excuse the pun, to give the message. I remove and replace the offending cartridge and the printer goes through the normal setting-up procedure and then a message appears to say that a different or the same or any combination of colours are not recognised. I bought the printer in June 2010 and have spent over £100 on ncartridges, most of which I have had to discard as part-used which is almost as much as the £170 I paid for the printer. Canon Customer Service was useless just giving the party line about using originals. I haven’t printed any photos but am a fairly heavy user of document printing. I would not recommend the printer on the cartridge aspect but it is good otherwise. None of the reviews I have read, including those of Which, have covered the point about compatibles which makes their reviews just as useless as the printers.

David Hone says:
10 September 2011

Its a fact we are being riped off see how they rip you off here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmAKDOrOeWg

Rosslyn Bower says:
25 September 2011

Canon MG6140 This printer cleans all of its heads between print jobs. Consequently all the colour cartridges need replacing (due to cleaning process) whether you have printed in colour or not! Alarm messages occur when cartridge is running low (rather than when it is empty) and printer stops printing altogether unless you replace cartridge. This printer is using stupendous amounts of ink, at great expense, whether I am printing in colour or not! Disgraceful … there should be a law against this customer exploitation.


If the print heads were not cleaned they would block up and become unusable. Printers should be designed not to clean their heads more often than necessary. To minimise printing costs I use a black & white laser printer and use the colour printer only when I need to print in colour.

dictrix says:
29 July 2012

I agree wholeheartedly. I’ve used my MG6140 printer (it is a multifunction) to print exactly one page and to scan multiple pages to the pc.
Guess what! Ink ran out when I wanted to print my second page as every time I powered up the printer it cleaned it’s heads and slowly but surely empties the cartridges.
This should be reported to the consumer watchdogs.

graham says:
3 March 2012

i have a hp photsmart 306. i cannot run non hp made cartridges in it. isnt that anti competition/ restrictive practice?? and illegal. it is surely againt consumer choice and something WHICH should campaign on.
how do i know how much ink i buy each time? if hp drops the ink content in its cartridges but keeps the price the same how do i know? i suspect they do this a lot.Its a rip off!!

Robert McLoughlin says:
31 July 2014

I have an HP Photosmart5520 and was tempted to use refilled cartridges with disastrous results with leaked ink on carpet and table. Since then I have used more suppliers of HP cartridges than I care to remember until I came across Argos’ prices (which beat PC World).

Frans van der Werf says:
13 November 2016

I just bought new cartridges for my HP 5520 Photosmart. Ink levels show normal at first. Then after lining the cartridges out, I get the message that they are low on Ink. Alternative cartridges are blocked via software and their own cartridges are empty to start with! These cartridges cost you dearly and then they seem empty!! They provide support behind a truckload of texts and other nonsense. What a miserable product. It seems only driven by cartridge sales.

Do not buy printers from HP is my advise!!!!


Frans- it only takes one cartridge to “show ” empty for it to stop printing , HP says its stops “Grey scale ” printing as, according to them they need the colours to do that. This is refuted by many . One thing you can try is cover each tag behind the cartridge,one at a time with scotch tape and try it out till you find the one that allows your printer to work again . As your post brings it up to a month or more since HP said they would rescind this by a firmware update they obviously still havent , not looking good in the truth department -HP ?? profit before customer satisfaction , does Whirlpool and VW not “ring a bell ” – -IE- loss of trade . BY the way Epson has /or had a reset button , not like HP.


This is a rather old Conversation but nothing much has changed except that HP decided to up its game and then issued an apology: https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/printer-software-update-third-party-printer-ink/


The purpose of keeping it going Wavechange is to see if HP are honest in the world proclamation that they will reverse their “firmware update ” so that third party inks can be used . It has been brought up in other convos in which I asked for posters to keep me /Which informed as to when HP actually download an update that rescinded the previous one. This is down to commercial integrity .


I added the link in case others were not aware of what has been going on recently. I’m no expert but printer ink could be used as a focus of modern anticompetitive practices. For years I used to buy HP ink but as a matter of principle have no intention of doing so in future. If using other ink blocks the printheads then I cannot expect HP to offer support, but if a different problem arises I will make use of my statutory rights. I won’t attempt to cheat companies and I expect them to behave responsibly too.

I would expect users to have to download an update to be able to reverse the effect of an update. I wonder how much consumers’ money has been wasted by users having to replace non-HP cartridges with HP ones.

Yes – Let’s keep this going. 🙂

Paul D says:
9 November 2017

My Epsonstylus photo RX425
Still states out of ink even when refilled: is there anything I can do?


Paul this sounds like you need a cartridge reset. I take it you don’t use third party inks ?? –yes/no ?? If you use Windows try the – SSCSERVICE.exe also take out cartridges there any flashing lights ? if so the inkpads could need replacing then push them back in . If you are asked on reset if you have replaced them lIE and say yes this worked for some. Try the service utility first then come back. Sorry to say Epson keep on telling you to send it to an “authorised” dealer , stupid if you don’t live near one or the printer didn’t cost much . You can also try a re-installation . I repeat though I take it no third party inks were used ? It needs only one cartridge to be classed as “empty ” for it to stiop working also Epson goes through this profit making ink usage process of “head cleaning ” where large amounts of ink are used every time you switch it -on/off – dont ever turn it off if you get it running again .